'Dating Exclusively' vs. 'Exclusive Relationship': What's the Difference?

Dating has always been complicated, but the recent influx of new dating terms and trends has made trying to find your life partner even harder—what’s the real definition of “talking?” Is it okay to ghost someone? And what exactly is lovebombing?

Another recent dating trend is the rise of the phrase “dating exclusively.” It used to be that you were either dating someone casually—ie, still seeing other people—or you were in an exclusive relationship. Now, with this recent mishmash of words, daters are more confused than ever. Is “dating exclusively” the same thing as being in an exclusive relationship? What does it all mean?!

We talked to Maria Sullivan, Dating Expert and VP of Dating.com, to get some insight.

What exactly does it mean to date exclusively?

Labels often mean different things to different people, but you can think of “dating exclusively” as a transitional phase between dating and being exclusive.

“You are only seeing one person, and beginning to shift our mindset from short-term to long-term with your partner,” Sullivan explains. So basically, while you may not be ready for an actual relationship, you’re starting to think about a future with the person you’re currently dating.

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Does dating exclusively mean you’re in a relationship?

While the concept can be confusing, dating exclusively doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in a relationship, and for some singles, the low-key nature of being with someone without really being with them is exactly what they’re looking for. (It’s basically the basis of Ariana Grande’s new song.)

“Being exclusive means that you are not seeing anyone else or proactively pursuing another person. Exclusive means you aren’t in a committed relationship just yet, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t eventually turn into one,” Sullivan says.

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What are some signs my partner wants to progress to an exclusive relationship?

The easiest way to figure it out is to ask them! It’s never easy to have the “what are we” talk, but ultimately, you might come away with a clearer picture of where you two are headed.

Sullivan says you can also take note of their body language. “If your partner is reaching for areas like your hand, face, knee or waist (especially in a public setting), these kinds of physical gestures are often a sign of endearment,” she says. “Of course it is important to think back to when you first met, and compare their body language from then and now. If they have shifted to make more romantic and endearing gestures, it is definitely a sign that they are beginning to or have developed feelings for you, deeper than a casual fling.”

How can I go from dating exclusively to being in an exclusive relationship?

If you decide that you want to take your relationship up a notch and fully commit to each other, you’ll need to be open and honest with your partner about your needs. Have a face-to-face conversation with your partner about what you want from your relationship.

If your partner agrees to move your relationship into a full-time deal, that’s great! If not, don’t be discouraged—Sullivan explains that it’s always better to find out if you and your partner on the same page, so that you can gain the closure needed to move on.

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